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May 2008

Another Demonstration that I'm not a Raving Loony

There is a piece on the front page of the Australian today reporting some Sydney Uni research which shows that the "children's obesity epidemic" is not running away and is not even very big. The average rate of "obesity", presumably BMI greater than 25, measured over several thousand children in 2000 was 6% and the same rate BMI in 2006 was 6.8%. If this research is accurate I conclude that over 93% of children are not "obese" which lines up well with my estimate of the "problem".

Of course, the AMA has come out and tried to denigrate the research, calling it trivializing the problem. I wonder what evidence the AMA has to justify this view. They of course are not quoting evidence, merely asserting their "opinion". Even the medical profession is "broken" at its organisational level.

There are of course medical practitioners who are using evidence based methods and we are so lucky to have two such doctors practising in Barraba. My recent episode of leg pain reinforced my respect for Dr Sanji as she took ever possible step to rule out any dangerous cause.

As I say regularly, we are so lucky to have settled in Barraba.

Posted: 31/5/08 8:09 PM

Obesity Propaganda

I read somewhere recently a report that claimed that the "obese" in our society are creating a major global warming problem because of the carbon dioxide generated from the extra food they eat.

I have done the calculation for our family. We are both "obese" by their inappropriate measure (body mass index - a measure of the pressure we put on the ground on which we stand) and I find that our food consumption generates about 20% of our carbon footprint, the same as the fuel consumed by the car. The remaining 60% comes from electricity and gas consumed keeping the house working and warm. This should be seen in perspective because our carbon footprint is well below any of the targets I have seen.

You might already have identified the error of the original claim, the food we consume is virtually all generated by growing plants which consume carbon dioxide in their growth, giving us a carbon credit equal to the nominal footprint of the food we eat.

Why have I used the word propaganda in the title of this post. Clearly the reality I have outlined above negates the claim entirely but the originator of the claim still published it. Forgive me for thinking that her/his motivation was to generate guilt in the minds of the "obese" when they do not in fact contribute more than the "proper BMI people" because of what they eat. Perhaps she/he was trying to absolve themselves from any contribution to global warming. We live in a world where rational debate has been almost entirely driven out by propaganda which is an alarming circumstance. I do believe, as I have said before, that homo sapiens will overcome all this bad stuff in the future. We always have in the past.

I know that a heavy person will use more fuel in their car but the difference would clearly be a vanishingly small part of the total fuel consumption. The lack of numeracy in almost all we read or see in the debate on global warming is frightening. One would like to think that anyone who feels qualified to comment would be able to base their views on the evidence.

I must say that I applaud Tim Flannery's efforts to increase the concern we all should have about the world we are going to leave to our descendants. I know some who think he is just a propagandist himself but I am sure that he is taking great care to seek all the evidence before he offers his view.

Posted: 27/5/08 8:31 PM

I'm not a Raving Loony after all

The editorial in this weeks New Scientist makes a case for the use of randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions other than medical ones. The two areas mentioned specifically are education and crime. I remember being mightily impressed by Richard Feynman's view that the development of education policies should be subject to the scientific method. I have held this same view myself and the thought that other areas of public intervention should be soundly based on proper evidence resonates with me.

The latest example of the opposite is the Australian Governments effort to suppress binge drinking in young people by increasing the tax on alcopops which are apparently much favoured by the young. It seemed clear at the time this was introduced that there are alternatives choices of alcoholic drinks and reducing the demand for some by selectively increasing the tax on them would probably simple transfer this demand to other kinds of drink. It would be nice if the public service was required to carry out appropriate scientific studies on such policies. They would, of course, have to be suitably resourced to do this. I can but dream.

Posted: 26/5/08 11:30 AM

Culture in Barraba

We have just come back from a concert at The Playhouse of baroque chamber music played by a group called Stringybark. They are five ladies from Armidale who play reproduction baroque instruments, recorders, violins, viol de gamba, and spinet. The programme included Bach, Telemann, Vivaldi, and van Eyck. The ladies were very talented and the music was beautiful. The audience of about fifty Barraba residents were appreciative and enthusiastic and the ladies were happy with the audience response.

After the concert, we all sat down to a fine dinner laid on by Andrew, the proprietor of the Playhouse, who had hosted the concert. We were amazed at how many people we knew. We also met some new people. I did my usual thing proposing a toast to Stringybark which went down very well with both the audience and the musicians. I commented on how happy I was to live in a town that could put on such a cultural gem.

Posted: 25/5/08 12:00 AM

Wildlife in Barraba

Five weeks ago I bought a birdbath which I initially put in the front lawn hoping to see lots of birds using it. After some time with no visitors sighted, I moved it to the back lawn thinking that we usually have lots of birds in the back. We still haven't seen any birds using it until today. Jean just saw a Magpie-lark drinking so I will keep it where it is and filled with water, now that I know it is used.

I have recorded 24 species of birds using the garden including a Brown Falcon which had taken one of Elsie May's white roller Pigeons and was eating it on the back lawn when I drove back into the carport. We also see a Wedge-tailed Eagle fairly regularly and occasionally we see Pelicans flying by.

photo of the monkey puzzle tree leaves

In an earlier posting I had mentioned the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana - a native of Chile) in the nature just strip next door. I have recently investigated its real identification and now think it might be a Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii - a native of S E Queensland) also known as the False Monkey Puzzle tree. These two trees and are probably related from the time when Australia and South America were both part of Gondwana. The Bunya Pine is noted for its very large cones which pose a severe hazard when they fall from the tree. The tree in question has not shed any cones, big or small, while we have been here. Perhaps it is a young tree or maybe there isn't another tree nearby which could pollinate this one.

I would like to effect a proper identification but my access to botany text books is very limited. Wildlife Around Sydney by Burnam Burnam describes the Bunya Pine as having leaves spirally arranged, hard glossy-green with sharp points which corresponds well with our tree but he says Tree has a distinctly domed silhouette which doesn't correspond to our tree. The tree has an unusual characteristic, The branches have many individual leaves all along the branch between the sub-branches. These leaves eventually die but remain in place as sharp spikes.

Posted: 22/5/08 4:41 PM

Medical Adventure

When I went to bed last night, I felt a pain in my left shin. When I woke up this morning it hadn't gone away. By midday I was getting worried so I made an appointment to see the doctor. She thought it was probably a haematoma caused by a bump and aggravated by the anti-platelet medication I take because of the stent. A secondary diagnosis was DVT so she asked me to get an ultrasound scan. When I asked if it could be a bone problem she asked me to get an x-ray as well.

She arranged for the imaging centre in Inverell to do the scan and the x-ray this afternoon so we had to scoot off to Inverell. She insisted that Jean come with me as a co-driver in case I was taken down by a DVT.

I had the ultrasound scan first. This confirmed Dr Sanji's prime diagnosis, a fairly large haematoma. The veins all checked out OK so DVT is not an issue.

I was given the images from the ultrasound and the x-rays on disc which I take to the doctor tomorrow. The Sonographer's report and the Radiologist's report will be sent to Dr Sanji tomorrow. I won't get the results of the x-rays until then. I am happy to believe that Dr Sanji was right and I simple knocked myself yesterday and created a haematoma which is causing the pain. The treatment for this is Hirudoid Cream which I bought in Inverell and applied before we set off for Barraba.

Despite the good news the journey back home was quite stressful. The road from Inverell to Delungra is westbound and the sun was very low so visibility was a problem. The sun set on the way to Bingara and twilight ended just after we left Bingara. The road is a well known haunt of kangaroos and wallabies out in the evening. Happily we didn't see any but the need to look out for them creates stress anyway. Jean didn't take the drive back home too well. She developed a bad headache and decided to have a very light supper.

Posted: 20/5/08 7:13 PM


I am confused. One of the changes in the recent federal budget concerns an increase in the threshold for the Medicare levy.

I assume that this means that some people now paying the levy will not have to in the future. I also assume that all people are treated the same whether they pay the levy or not. If these two assumptions are true, the only effects of the change are that the government will collect less money from this source and that some people will have more money to spend on other things. If the Government is planning to reduce the expenditure on medicare treatment in line with the reduced income funded, then this would be a suitable issue for public debate.

The news reports that the Opposition claim that a million Australians will drop their private medical insurance. The Government claim that the figure is only half a million.

The private medical insurance companies claim that their rates will have to rise.

I am confused because there seems to be no logic to the proposition that people will drop their private medical insurance. Some people will have more money and the rest will not have less money as a result of this change so why would any of them seek to reduce their expenditure on private medical insurance. I can see no reason why private insurance rates would need to rise.

My conclusion is that all these reports do not reflect reality. What a surprise. I keep saying that one must teat all public statements with scepticism.

On another issue, I think I heard a government spokesman say that some of the budget surplus would be spent on some project. Surely this means that the surplus being claimed is not the true surplus. Is it any wonder that I am confused.

Posted: 18/5/08 8:39 PM

Obscene Conspicuous Consumption

I was gob-smacked to see a news item about a movie star wearing to an award ceremony a dress that set a record for price because it was decorated with a million dollars worth of diamonds.

We live in a society where people are valued by the cost of their belongings rather than for their contribution they make to the well being of all the people in our society.

As an engineer who went back to school in mid career to study economics, I understand that the entertainment industry has a very large market and can afford to pay its workers obscenely large amounts of money and that the participants can negotiate ever bigger payments for their services.

Forgive me for thinking that the education "industry" has a bigger market and make a much more significant contribution to our society but its participants are paid very small salaries for their services and have to threaten to go on strike just to get pay increases of a few percent.

As an engineer trained in system optimization, I believe that the "markets" are grossly distorted and we desperately need a system which corrects the gross inequities in our society.

Posted: 17/5/08 8:01 PM

What's happening in Barraba today

We had happy hour with the Samins and some friends of theirs. Vicki and John are heading off to Queensland in their newly rebuilt motorhome soon so we won't be seeing them for a few months.

I had an Lions planning meeting in the evening to set about preparing for the new year which starts in July. It was a very productive meeting and bodes well for the coming year. I continue to marvel at our good fortune to have fetched up in such a beautiful, friendly town.

Posted: 11/5/08 11:23 PM

Bingara Adventure

We needed to get out of the house for a bit so we took a trip to Bingara. We have been through the town often but the only time we topped there was when we were on the way from Copeton Dam to Moree in 1999 so we thought we should suss it out again.

We checked out the showground where the next CMCA rally will be held. It is a big site but not very scenic and it is 3 km (2 miles) from town. We also checked out the campsites on the banks of the Gwydir River to the east of the town. They are quite pretty and extensive but you wouldn't want to be there when there are lots of people vying for space or when the river is in flood.

When we got back to town we looked for places to have lunch. The only reasonable option was the Imperial Hotel. The food was OK and the coffee was about four out of five. After lunch I found some track suit pants on sale and Jean bought a few things from the Sallies op shop. We visited the IGA which has a good reputation and found that its range is much better that the IGA in Barraba so we stocked up with quite a bit of stuff.

We drove to Bingara and back in almost summer conditions so we enjoyed the trip.

Posted: 7/5/08 9:44 PM

An Engineer's take on Economics

Despite being a black hand engineer, I have some views on the economics of our society. In mid career I went back to university to study economics and accounting so that I could debate financial issues with my back room colleagues from an informed position. I remember being berated by one of my colleagues because we were not achieving as much return on investment (ROI) as the television channel which the company owned. I replied that all risky businesses had to achieve high ROI and that low risk businesses like ours and BHP were able to succeed with lower ROI. I was proved right by history when the television channel went belly up.

Today's news is that the Reserve Bank has changed its policy by not increasing interest rates again despite high and increasing inflation. The pundits are arguing as to whether fiscal policy of monetary policy are the proper tools to use to control inflation.

Forgive an old black hand engineer for suggesting that they are both wrong but I am sure that our present bout of inflation is caused by there being too much money. The last couple of decades of deregulation of the financial system has given rise to an addiction lending by the banks and to borrowing by their customers which has devalued the currency and hence caused inflation. A recent news item revealed that one of Australia's big four banks had made a provision for bad debts of $800M which surely points to very flawed lending policies and to a situation where much of the money being lent is borrowed by people with no ability to rep[ay the loan.

My theory is not borne out by analysis. I recently gathered inflation figures for Australia over the last century. I was horrified to discover that inflation since 1968 has been 1000%. The finding that doesn't support my theory is that the rate of inflation in the first twenty years to 1988 was about 9%p.a. In the last 20 years it has only been about 3%p.a.. Perhaps we are all wrong. I still believe that an unrestrained money supply is the root cause.

Posted: 6/5/08 8:20 PM

Officer Training

I spent the day in Manilla attending a Lions Officer Training workshop. The trainers were the District Governor elect and the Cabinet Secretary. The attendees were mostly experienced club officers but there were a few of us who were awarded "Virgin Secretary" status. I was glad I attended because, although the basics were nothing new to me, there were a few issues which are peculiar to the Lions Clubs. I also solved a problem which had been worrying me. In order to use the internet to file reports, I needed a password to let me into the relevant parts of the Lions Club International website. As my predecessor was a pen and paper man I assumed that he would not have thought to get my email address and put it in my personal details. An email address is a prerequisite for the issue of a password. Happily the Cabinet Secretary offered to update my personal details so the problem will go away.

I also met several fellow Lions from neighbouring clubs, people I will work with when my time comes to take over as the Secretary of the Barraba Lions Club in July.

Posted: 3/5/08 7:39 PM


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